Unhappy with Westmoreland County Commissioners, who selected the county's new electronic touch-screen voting machine on Dec. 29 without offering public demonstrations of any possible choices, voting activists have formed the watchdog 10-County Citizens' Coalition For Voter Verified Paper Ballots.
Marybeth Kuznik of Penn Township in Westmoreland County, whose Web site (www.votePA.us) tracks voting issues in the state, helped form the group in response to a 10-county coalition of local election officials, including those of Allegheny County. According to Allegheny County spokesperson Megan Dardanell, the 10 local counties banded together a month ago to examine the "same two or three companies that they like the best" among the five whose machines the state has certified thus far. The county group, she says, aims to secure the lowest purchase price and maintenance costs by negotiating together -- without compromising what's best for Allegheny County voters, she emphasizes.
Kuznik's group is hoping for the greatest amount of public input on every county's decisions. The group rallied voting activists from Butler and Allegheny counties, for instance, to try to get Westmoreland to consider other machines. The iVotronic machine chosen by Westmoreland commissioners, manufactured by Electronic Systems and Software of Omaha, Neb., has had problems. Kuznik points to a Dec. 24 report in the San Francisco Chronicle with the headline "State threatens to pull plug on vote machine firm: Company ordered to correct glitches or lose certification." Several different ES&S machines handle the vote in 11 California counties and have experienced problems, including votes registered for the wrong individuals, the paper reports. The company, in another article by the Associated Press, blamed machine users for the problem.
Kuznik's group, as its name implies, also hopes the state will allow the new electronic machines to print out voter-verified paper records, a kind of receipt produced for each voter to examine for accuracy.
So far, the secretary of state, whose office certifies new voting machines, has OK'd machines only with their paper-record printers disabled. The state's top expert in electronic voting, Carnegie Mellon University professor Michael Shamos, argues that there is no way for individual voters to know whether these paper printouts match what the machine is actually recording electronically.
Each county has until the May primary to purchase new voting machines with available federal funds. The 2002 Help America Vote Act mandated the purchase, both to make voting machines accessible to those with disabilities and to ensure there won't be another vote-counting fiasco, such as the delay surrounding the presidential election in Florida in 2000.
Kuznik's group places hope in Pennsylvania's House Bill 2000 and Senate Bill 977, each of which calls for using paper records. State Sen. Joe Conti, of Doylestown, in Bucks County, will hold hearings on SB 977 in January.
Meanwhile, Kuznik worries that the only system decertified by the state for Election Day problems -- Unilect's Patriot model, which lost votes in Beaver, Greene and Mercer counties when it was used last November -- is up for re-testing on Jan. 4. Without the voter-verified paper record, how will the state guarantee that any future errors are caught? Concludes Kuznik: "I've never heard a voter say, 'I don't care. I don't want to see my vote.'"